The concept of being made in the image of God is a crucial idea found in various religious traditions. This belief suggests that human beings have a unique dignity and worth as they reflect specific aspects of God’s nature. In episode 75 of the Rethinking Scripture Podcast, we discuss and dissect some different views on what it means to be made in the image of God, as embraced by a few prominent theologians.
S. Joshua Swamidass, a Christian theologian and scientist, suggests that the concept of being made in the image of God can be grouped into three main approaches: substantive, relational, and functional views. The substantive view highlights specific attributes, such as rationality and creativity, that reflect God’s nature. The relational view emphasizes the idea of humans participating in a unique relationship with God and other human beings. Meanwhile, the functional view sees humans fulfilling a specific purpose or function in God’s creation.
John H. Walton, an Old Testament scholar, argues that understanding the ancient Near Eastern context is crucial in comprehending the concept of being made in the image of God. He notes that the ancient Israelites believed that physical idols represented a god’s power and authority. Thus, the image of God would have been understood in this context as a representation of God’s authority and power. The ancient Israelites would have understood that being made in God’s image meant they had a mandate to serve as stewards of God’s creation.
Gregory Beale, a New Testament scholar, frames idolatry and image bearing in terms of the human tendency to reflect the values and priorities of what we worship. Beale posits that when humans turn away from God and worship idols, they become conformed to the image of the idol and its values instead of reflecting God’s image. In this sense, idolatry involves a distortion of the image of God within us.
Understanding the concept of being made in the image of God is crucial for Christians and non-Christians alike. As we grapple with what it means to reflect God’s image in the world, we must seek to embody His values and priorities and fulfill our mandate as stewards of His creation.